"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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2019 TV Round Up

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes 14 seconds

Once again the Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again no one cares. But since this Sunday night is supposed to be a celebration of the best of the best in tv, I thought I would briefly share my thoughts on the 2019 television fare I was able to catch.

I rarely write about television only because there is so much of it and I am so behind in watching everything that comes out. An example of which is that I literally just started watching 30 Rock for the first time a few months ago and that show went off the air in 2013.

The advent of binge watching, thank you Netflix, has changed the tv viewing experience so that audiences no longer simultaneously digest new material, but rather do it on their own time. I prefer this method of tv viewing, but it makes writing on the topic difficult and rather useless.

So, since I rarely if ever review television, I have decided to just throw together a cheat sheet of mini-reviews for the relevant shows I have watched this year. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated for Emmy Awards because I, like every other normal human being on the planet, do not care about the Emmys, in fact my indifference is so great I refuse to even do a google search to see the list of nominees.

So with my laziness established, let’s begin our review of 2019 television!

GAME OF THRONES - HBO: 4 Stars

I watched Game of Thrones from the beginning and as a testament to my limited intellectual abilities I readily admit I didn’t what the hell was going on 90% of the time and had no clue who half the characters were, but the show had an above average amount of nudity and violence, my two favorite things, so I was on board.

Game of Thrones was one of the very few, in fact I think only, tv show I wrote about this year. As previously stated the show’s final season was a definite mixed bag and was not nearly as good as the seasons that preceded it. That said, watching King’s Landing get obliterated was as exhilarating a visual sequence as we have seen in the history of the medium.

The cast of Game of Thrones have always done solid, if not spectacular work. I think Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage were among those who were the most spectacular.

THE BOYS - AMAZON: 4.5 stars

The Boys is an absolute gem of a show that is the best kept secret on tv. I seem to be the only person who has ever watched the program and have become a sort of evangelist in favor of it. I have told countless friends that they have to check this thing out.

The Boys beautifully deconstructs the corporate superhero mythology that is the dominant myth of our time. If you are sick of Marvel and Disney’s dominance of the superhero space…then watch The Boys. The show is an insightful and piercing commentary on the American corporatocracy, and it pulls no punches. It eviscerates the empty headed corporate flag waving of the media, Disney in particular, and tells more truth in its fiction than the establishment news has ever done in its reporting.

There is a sequence in the show, and I won’t give it away, but it deals with the Hegelian dialectic (problem - reaction - solution) and it is the absolute truth of our time and is brilliant.

The show stars Jack Quaid, who is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quad. This is obvious but still kind of weird to see, but Jack is the perfect amalgam of his two famous parents. At times he looks exactly like his dad, and other times just like his mom…it is like he has his own weird famous parent morphing super power.

The rest of the cast, which includes Karl Urban, Antony Starr, Elisabeth Shue and Erin Moriarty, is top-notch and play their roles with aplomb.

The Boys is not perfect but it really is a fantastic show and a bolt of anarchist rebellious energy into the very stagnant super hero genre. This show actually made me yell in joy at one point at how subversive it is…I kid you not. Anyway, if you love super hero stuff, or are sick of superhero stuff…this is definitely the show for you.


MINDHUNTER - NETFLIX: 4.25 stars

Mindhunter is produced, and sometimes directed, by filmmaker David Fincher. One of my favorite Fincher films, and one of my favorite films period, is Zodiac. Zodiac is a rare Fincher film in that it sort of flew under the radar, in fact I didn’t even see it in the theatre. But after discovering the film a bunch of years ago, I cannot get enough of it…and even use scenes from it when I work with clients. I watch Zodiac so often it has become a running joke in my house…and probably with the FBI agents who are surveilling me.

Mindhunter is like an extended and expanded version of Zodiac, as it is set in relatively the same time frame, and shares the same visual and artistic aesthetic. Mindhunter is, not surprisingly since it is a Fincher project, beautifully shot and lit and looks great.

The acting in the show is solid and subtle, as the main cast maintain a tight lid on things. The guest stars, who play a panoply of serial killers, are creepily fantastic in bringing their famous killers to life.

Mindhunter is, at its core, an extremely well made “cop” show that is decidedly smart and mature. This show is Fincher at his best….moody, unnerving, menacing, unsafe. The show is so well- made I think it would be impossible to watch it and not end up double checking the locks own your windows and doors before going to bed at night and also not looking at the nearly invisible normal people who populate our surroundings and thinking, at least for a moment, that they might be, or are at least capable of being, super predators.

FLEABAG - Amazon: 4.5 stars

Fleabag is what feminist tv/film should be. It is not whiney and self serving with an axe to grind but aggressively funny and deeply reflective. Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and stars in the show and her performance is remarkable and her writing, scintillating.

The rest of the cast, which include Sian Clifford, Andrew Scott and the glorious Olivia Colman, give superb performances across the board.

What makes this show such an intrepid piece of feminist comedy is that the female lead has absolute agency, she is not a victim but an active participant in the mess that is her life. The plot of Fleabag is fueled by Waller-Bridge’s character’s actions, not by her responding to other people’s actions. If she is a victim it is of her own bad decisions, not of other people’s.

BLACK MIRROR - NETFLIX: 4 stars

Black Mirror really is a Twilight Zone for the 21st century. The show never fails to be unique, original, challenging and insightful and also never fails to surprise. Black Mirror boasts terrific writing, top notch direction and stellar casts.

What is great about Black Mirror is that all of the episodes are stand alone so you can watch them at your leisure. This season there are, at least so far, only three episodes and they are fantastic. The best of the bunch is “Striking Vipers” which is both shocking and funny.

I can’t remember being underwhelmed by any episodes of Black Mirror, but I can recall being completely freaked out by more than a few of them. (The one with the dog like hunting drones is stellar!)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE - HULU: 1.5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season was an electric piece of television. The fact that the show was in production prior to Trump’s election but spoke so eloquently about women’s anxiety after he won, is a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that went into making it. The problem though is that the show, which was so compelling in season 1, quickly jumped the shark in season 2, and in season 3 has gone full Evel Knevel on a tricycle over Jaws in a kiddie pool.

It is difficult to overstate what a heinous piece of crap this show has become. The only equivalent I can think of is the precipitous fall of House of Cards which was like a speeding train falling off a cliff after its first few seasons.

Just like House of Cards downfall, what saps The Handmaid’s Tale of drama is that there is no longer any genuine threat to the main character June. June has become an avatar for the girl power people in her audience and thus is given no genuine obstacles to overcome, just manufactured ones, by the fan servicing producers.

At one point while watching one of the episodes in season 3 I said out loud to no one in particular…”I hate this show”…and I really have grown to hate it, which is frustrating because the show in the first season, and Elizabeth Moss’ acting in that season, were just mesmerizing. But now the show really has devolved into a pointless, rambling, dramatically incoherent, self-reverential mess and Moss’ acting little more than her not blinking in order to cry and acting faux tough. The bottom line is this, if Gilead were as awful and authoritarian as it is supposed to be, then June would have been swinging from the wall a long time ago. At this point I watch the show praying she gets hung and puts us all out of our misery.

The show is just so…stupid and frustrating…and the characters equally stupid and frustrating. In season’s 2 and 3 The Handmaid’s Tale has abandoned any semblance of a coherent internal logic and now just seems to be winging it. It is safe to say I will not be returning to Gilead for season 4.

WHEN THEY SEE US - NETFLIX: 1 Star

This show, which is about the very relevant and important story of the Central Park Five, is produced by Oprah and directed by Ava DuVernay….and it shows. That is not a compliment. This mini-series is just God awful. It is embarrassingly maudlin, shmaltzy and unconscionably ham handed.

This show will no doubt win a bunch of Emmys, but that is only because it is the sort of anti-Trump, anti-racist screed that Hollywood dipshits gobble up like Xanax. But do not be deceived, this show is atrociously poorly made. The cast, most notably Jharrel Jerome, are abysmal. Jerome sets the craft of acting back decades, if not millennia, with his corny performance as Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five.

What frustrated me so much about this mini-series was that it is based on what should be a dramatically potent true story, and a story that is so vital and relevant to our times. But in the hands of DuVernay, this story is sapped of any meaning, and instead turns out to be an emotionally manipulative piece of garbage better suited to the Lifetime channel than Netflix.

Sadly, this story of the Central Park Five is as true to life as the Central Perk Five of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. Yikes.

CHERNOBYL- HBO: 4 stars

This mini-series which recounts the 1989 nuclear disaster, starts out great but loses some dramatic momentum late as it staggers to the finish line. Chernobyl looks great from start to finish and is elevated by some great acting, most notably from Jared Harris.

The weak link with the show is the script, as it falls into the tired Boris and Natasha evil Soviet caricature too often. The historical accuracy of the show has been called into question as well, but that is somewhat excusable, but the tired cliches of Soviet inhumanity are not.

The first few episodes of the mini-series were as good as anything on television this year, but the finale was decidedly disappointing and underwhelming. That said, I enjoyed it for the great cast and for how well it was shot.

ESCAPE AT DONNEMARA - SHOWTIME: 2.5 stars

Escape At Donnemara, which was directed by Ben Stiller, is a wholly uneven enterprise. Just like Chernobyl it starts off strong, then there’s a lull and then a significant dramatic and artistic spike in the second to last episode…but then it finishes with a whimper.

Stiller certainly puts some artistic bows on the show, using music and sound and fading to black to nice effect, but ultimately the show only stays on the surface of things and there is never a sense that we are getting at any semblance of the truth.

One of the odd things about the show is that it can feel incredible slow, bordering on dull, and yet that leisurely pace pays no dramatic benefits because the narrative ultimately seems so rushed at the end of the day.

That said, I thought Paul Dano’s performance as Sweat was really phenomenal. Dano makes Sweat a real person, not some caricature. Dano’s Sweat is conflicted, with a vivid and pulsating inner life that is compelling to watch. The show would have been better served with more Paul Dano and not less.

Patricia Arquette’s performance is all show. Arquette’s Tilly is nothing more than a monotonous and endless droning on, and the acting never once reveals anything of use or honesty about Tilly.

Benicia del Toro gives what I would deem a rather lazy del Toro performance…we’ve seen this act before and it has grown tired.

Ultimately, this mini-series has its moments but ended up being unsatisfying.

VEEP - HBO: 4 Stars

Veep was good this season but not great. Of course, Veep had set the bar ridiculously high with its first six seasons, so topping it in the finale was always going to be a tough job.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the wonders of the world, and her performance as Selena Meyer was so great as to be iconic. The rest of the cast were their usual stellar selves as well.

That said, season 7 felt like the show had definitely run its course and in the age of Trump, where reality is much stranger than fiction, seemed a bit, dare I say it…tame.

I liked season 7, but I think it was the weakest of all the Veep seasons.

BARRY - HBO: 4.5 Stars

Barry is awesome. This show perfectly captures the absurdity of the Hollywood experience for any actor trying to scratch out an existence and chase a dream. The acting class scenes are spot on and poignantly painful for their depiction of the shit show that is acting class in Hollywood.

What is so great about Barry is that it wonderfully mixes shocking violence with exquisitely subtle comedy. Few shows are ever able to do one or the other, but Barry is able to do both and do them extraordinarily well.

The straw that stirs the drink of Barry, is Bill Hader, who is a god send as assassin turned wannabe actor, Barry. Hader’s comedic timing and energy are exquisite, but it is his transformation into the ruthless assassin that makes the show real enough to be worthwhile. Hader is not just a funny man, he is a genuinely gifted dramatic actor, and his versatility is a rare trait indeed.

The rest of the cast, particularly Henry Winkler, are gloriously good. Winkler’s scene stealing work as Gene Cousineau is a stake through the heart of the ghost of Fonzie (hey, second Fonzie reference of this article!). Winkler perfectly captures the insincerity, dishonesty and desperation of those unfortunate souls who become acting teachers…I would know.

Barry is appointment viewing in my household.

Thus concludes my brief foray into television criticism, I hope you found it useful. My top picks this year are The Boys, Mindhunter, Fleabag, Black Mirror and Barry. None of those shows are for the feint of heart, so know that going in. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated or will win at The Emmys on Sunday night…and more importantly, I don’t care…and neither should you.

©2019

Jussie Smollett's Hate Crime Hoax Exposes America's Shocking Skepticism Shortage

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

The Jussie Smollett story is a microcosm of what is wrong with America and the mainstream media.

 “It’s not a lie if you believe it” – George Costanza, Seinfeld

On Thursday, US actor Jussie Smollett was arrested in Chicago after being charged with filing a false police report.

Jussie Smollett, a gay, African-American actor who stars on the hit tv show Empire, claimed that on January 29th he was the victim of a hate crime when two White men hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, punched, kicked and poured bleach over him, and then put a noose around his neck while taunting him by proclaiming “this is MAGA (Make America Great Again) country”.

Smollett’s story was dubious to some because the idea of two Trumpites out at 2 a.m. in Chicago hunting gay Black men with a noose and bleach in minus 20 degrees weather seems far-fetched…as does the idea that they would be pop-culturally aware enough to have watched Empire and recognize a marginal celebrity like Smollett in the first place.

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

In the wake of Smollett’s unusual claims the media uncritically accepted his story and numerous celebrities such as Emma Watson, Katy Perry, Olivia Munn and Ariana Grande tweeted vociferous support. Actress Ellen Page gave a heart felt speech on The Late Show with Colbert laying the blame for Smollett’s attack at the feet of homophobic Vice President Mike Pence.

VIDEO LINK

Democratic presidential hopefuls chimed as well with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both calling the attack a “modern-day lynching”, and a cavalcade of other politicians who tweeted their unquestioning support for Jussie and devout belief in his story.

 The problem with all of the belief in Smollett is that, like Ms. Page’s impassioned Late Show rant, it was entirely based on emotion and not reason.

As is usually the case when decisions are made on emotion and not reason, many now regret their embrace of Smollett because his story has come into question. The two alleged assailants are not MAGA hat wearing White men, but Black men who claim that Smollett paid them to stage the whole incident. According to reports, as of this writing the Chicago police believe this entire hate crime is a hoax orchestrated by Smollett.

VIDEO LINK

The media, celebrities and politicians who supported Smollett did so for the simple reason…it was easy. Smollett’s story confirmed all of their biases regarding Trump supporters who they believe are racist homophobes, and gave them the opportunity to signal their virtue and espouse their moral superiority.

This sort of indulging in one’s biases and signaling one’s virtue is epidemic in America and a big reason for that is social media.  Social media is built to be a personalized echo chamber that triggers emotion and shortcuts reason, and encourages a solidifying of instantaneous emotional reaction into permanent and intractable belief.

Another reason for this scourge of confirmation bias and virtue signaling is that the corporate press is not in the truth-telling business, they are in the tell people what they want to hear business. Just watch this MSNBC breaking news segment on the alleged attack on Smollett.

None of the professionals in this clip ever practice anything resembling journalism by actually questioning the voracity of the allegation. The anchorwoman Stephanie Ruhle is signaling her virtue so hard over this story, repeatedly declaring it’s a “horrible story” and “horrible to report” and then admitting she is “so shaken by the story”, that she can’t remember details of it.

This vapid emotional hyperventilation is a case study in cultural conditioning overpowering professional training. Ms. Ruhle, and the rest of the media who were so gullible regarding Smollett’s story, has been indoctrinated to quell skepticism regarding a “victim’s” story because doubt is now deemed the equivalent of assault. GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis made this clear when she commented on the Smollett story, “Jussie Smollett was victimized first in a hate-motivated and violent attack…and has since been doubly victimized as the subject of speculation by the media…” If reporters question Jussie Smollett’s story that doesn’t make them bigots, it makes them journalists.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” – Vladimir Lenin

The confirmation bias and virtue signaling in American culture is not confined to the Smollett case. The establishment media’s handling of all Russia stories is equally rife with a pandering to biases and a self-righteous signaling of patriotic virtue.

For example, last fall both NBC News and the New York Times hyped a bizarre James Bond-level spy story claiming the Russians had developed a nefarious super secret sonic weapon and used it to attack U.S. personnel in Cuba. This story was riddled with logical inconsistencies but the press reported it as if Putin were pointing his sonic weapon at every American’s head. Of course, upon closer inspection, these “sonic attacks” weren’t attacks at all but horny crickets trying to attract a mate. 

The media’s reporting of similar stories detailing alleged Russian villainy is hysterical, literally. Whether it is Russia hacking the Vermont power grid or into C-Span, it seems there is no skepticism allowed when it comes to Russia. And similar to the Smollett case, if you dare question the voracity of these Russia stories your virtue/patriotism is questioned.

This suffocating of skepticism has led all Russia related stories to become sacrosanct and be considered gospel truth. Yet, just like in the Smollett story, if you look at the majority of Russia related reporting you will notice it is often based on reporters treating assumptions as facts.

“The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” - Joseph Goebbels

The Smollett fiasco is small potatoes compared to the greatest example of media malpractice in recent memory, which was the Iraq war farce. The establishment media weren’t only entirely uncritical in regards to the Bush administration’s outlandish claims regarding WMD’s and an Iraqi connection with Al Qaeda, but were complicit in emotionally triggering the American people to sell them that insidious snake oil.

Back in 2003 during the build up to the war, dissent was verboten. The media were entirely in lockstep with the Bush administration and acted as stenographers to power as opposed to a check on it, with MSNBC even firing its highest rated host, Phil Donohue, because of his anti-war stance.

Just like the Smollett story and the reporting on Russia, in the Iraq war scam the media discarded skepticism in favor of confirmation bias and virtue/patriotism signaling. The disinformation the media disseminated during this period didn’t just lead to egg on their face, but blood on their hands, as thousands of U.S. service members and over a million Iraqis were killed or wounded.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man” – Book of Jeremiah 17:5

It would be nice to think that those who fell under the spell of confirmation bias in the Smollett case would have learned their lesson, but if the response of filmmaker Ava DuVernay and author Roxanne Gay is any indication, nothing will change. As Ms. DuVernay told the Hollywood Reporter, “…this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.”

Ms. Gay echoed the sentiment, “I’m not going to stop believing people who say they have suffered”.

The media is also proving their inability to learn from their mistakes by once again singing in harmony with the Washington establishment chorus who hunger for a coup in Venezuela. The continuing media sycophancy towards American imperialism and militarism across the globe shows a shameful myopia and a stunning historical illiteracy.

As the Smollett story teaches us, confirmation bias is a very addictive drug, and as the corporate media’s Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Russia and Venezuela coverage shows, it is a dangerous and deadly one too…and the only remedy for this epidemic of idiocy is an ardent and unrelenting commitment to skepticism.

A version of this article was originally published at RT.com.

©2019

The Birth of a Nation : A Review and Commentary

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 2 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : Skip It.

The Birth of a Nation is based on the true story of Nat Turner, a slave and preacher in 1831 who rallied free and enslaved blacks to rise up against the ruling white power structure of their Virginia county in a bid for freedom. The film is written, directed, produced and stars Nate Parker as Nat Turner.

The story of Nat Turner is an important one in the history of America and African-Americans. Turner's story should resonate with audiences of today as they try to come to terms with their nation's checkered history, the evil of slavery and the racial divisions of our time. Sadly, The Birth of a Nation does not live up to the audacious ambition of its writer/director/star Nate Parker. Instead the film is an unoriginal, one-dimensional, pedestrian and generic take on the scourge of slavery and the damage it has done.

"BLOOD WILL BE BORN IN THE BIRTH OF A NATION" - "PEACE FROG" BY THE DOORS  

The problems with The Birth of a Nation are multiple, so let's start at the beginning. The Birth of a Nation takes the same title as the iconic D.W. Griffth's film from 1915, which portrayed Blacks as savages and the Ku Klux Klan as the saviors of the white race from the scourge of Black barbarians set free post-civil war. Griffith's film was a monumental achievement in filmmaking of the time and was a blockbuster. Griffith's film was also, obviously, a piece of unabashed racist propaganda. Parker's 2016 The Birth of a Nation is propaganda as well, just from the other side of the spectrum, he basically said as much in an interview when he said, "so I wanted a film that people could watch and be affected - almost hold them hostage in the theater, where they have to see this images, and they have to see the parallels and the themes that are echoing right now in 2016." The problem is that  Parker's The Birth of a Nation isn't nearly as well made in relation to the current cinematic times as Griffith's film was in its day. 

Propaganda sets out to convince you of something, for instance Griffith convinced a lot of people that the Klan were the guardians of "real America" with his Birth of a Nation. As Ava DuVernay's wonderful documentary on Netflix The 13th (which I highly recommend) shows us, the Klan was nearly non-existent until Griffith's film came out and wowed audiences across the country. Not surprisingly, Griffith's well made propaganda shifted people's perspectives, that is what propaganda is supposed to do. The problem with Parker's The Birth of a Nation as propaganda is that in order to put Nat Turner in as positive and saintly a light as possible, Parker softens the rough edges, complexity and depth of his characters and situations, thus neutering a cavalcade of potential drama and insight. This blunting of the edges of Turner in order to sell him as a saint or messiah of a movement may not be the most wise move dramatically, but it could work in terms of propaganda, the problem is that Parker lacks the skill and vision as a writer/director to be able to pull it off. The film needs to be spectacularly well made in order for it to work as propaganda, but it just isn't. It is visually flat, cinematically stale, and the writing, directing, staging and acting are all painfully amateur.

"TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE." - POLONIUS, HAMLET BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Another issue with the film is that it doesn't entirely know what it wants to be. Is it a revenge film like Django Unchained? Or is it a horrors of slavery film like 12 Years a Slave? Is it trying to be both? It ends up being neither. Django was a delicious and entertaining bit of wish-fulfillment that was incredibly well made by Quentin Tarantino. 12 Years a Slave was a relentlessly intense journey into the brutal physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realities of slavery directed by one of the great directors of our time, Steve McQueen. Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a lukewarm, middle of the road rehash of every slave movie stereotype and trope. It is not bloodthirsty and action packed enough to be revenge entertainment like Django Unchained, and not thoughtful and meticulous enough to be high art like 12 Years a Slave.

"AMBITION BITES THE NAILS OF SUCCESS" - "THE FLY" BY U2

Writer/Director/Star Nate Parker is a solid, if unspectacular actor. Parker gives himself a handful of speeches that should have been rousing but instead feel rehearsed, not uncommon when a writer is reciting his own words. Parker's big speeches feel too performed and not vibrantly alive and immediate. That said, Parker does have an undeniable charisma that should serve him well in a quest for stardom, but artistically speaking his eyes are way too big for his stomach. Parker simply lacks the skill and talent as a writer and director to have taken on the task of telling this most vital of stories. Whether it was Parker's ego or blind ambition I don't know, but he does Nat Turner no justice by directing this film. 

There are no doubt many, creator Nate Parker included, who were hoping The Birth of a Nation would resonate with audiences and reviewers alike so that the film and its cast and crew would be among the Oscar contenders this year. Parker said in regards to making The Birth of a Nation, "…it's kind of like a battle cry from a filmmaking standpoint. Because yes, we need to deal with pervasive racism in Hollywood…", so obviously the whole "#OscarsSoWhite"
meme was part of the impetus to make the film. The reality is that the #OscarsSoWhite meme is untrue and that Black actors are not underrepresented by the Academy Awards, I have done the statistical analysis myself to prove it. Regardless, The Birth of a Nation is nowhere near Oscar worthy, and neither are any of the performances. 

"WHAT'S PAST IS PROLOGUE" - ANTONIO, THE TEMPEST BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Another issue with The Birth of a Nation is that it alters history in order to make a stronger argument as propaganda, but in doing so it removes some of the greatest dramatic material at its disposal. For instance, Parker's Turner is made to be a messiah of the anti-slavery movement, a man who sacrifices himself for the sins of a nation. This is not historically accurate. The slave uprising is also not historically accurate as it doesn't portray the murders of white women and children, which were a large number of the targets, and it also doesn't portray Turner's impotence when it comes to the act of killing. I understand why you would leave those things out in order to make Nat Turner a hero, but by making him an unquestionable action hero they have removed the nuance that makes him dramatically imperative.

For example, Turner's inability to kill could be used as tremendous symbol for the impotence of the Black male in modern America. Showing Turner and his rebels massacring women and children could highlight the moral depravity brought about by slavery upon all who come into contact with it. It would also be an interesting way to show how Turner's fervent religious beliefs could be skewed to make slaughtering woman and children not only necessary but righteous, a parallel to the terrorists of today who mask their murderous wars behind the righteousness of their cause and their God. The theme of religion being used to both support slavery and support the uprising against it, is briefly, but poorly, touched upon in the film, but it could have been mined for much more interesting material than Parker unearths.

"HE JESTS AT SCARS THAT NEVER FELT A WOUND." -ROMEO, ROMEO AND JULIET BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

One final point about missed opportunities in The Birth of a Nation has to do with Nate Parker's personal history, which I read about after seeing the film. Seventeen years ago, when Nate Parker was in college, he and his roommate were charged with raping a white woman. Parker was acquitted and his roommate was convicted, but had his conviction dropped on a technicality a few years later. The woman who alleged she was raped committed suicide in 2012. What does this have to do with Parker's film? Well, I am not the type of person to judge a film by the moral character of it's maker, I try to judge a film on its merits, and I was unaware of the charges prior to seeing the film. But what struck me as odd in hindsight was that Parker added a rape to the narrative of Nat Turner that is not historically accurate. That he did this is not surprising given his limited ability as a writer, adding the rape is sort of a "propaganda 101" move on Parker's part. But when you put the film rape in to the context of Parker's actual history, it becomes a bit disturbing to say the least. And the irony of it all is that the most interesting part of the Nat Turner story in particular, and slavery in general, is how it feeds the shame and self-loathing of an entire race in our current culture. The shame of the victimization by slavery still marks Black culture today, both consciously and unconsciously. The self-destructive, uber-masculine Black culture of our time is a direct result of the emasculation of Black men in slavery and Jim Crow over the last 400 years. The reason Nat Turner is so important as a symbol to African-Americans is because he was not a victim, he was not without agency, he did not take his slavery lying down, he stood like a man and fought back. Turner may have lost, but instead of living on his knees he died on his feet.  The ironic thing in regards to Parker's personal life, is that his alleged rape victim suffered from a very similar shame as the descendants of slaves, the shame of victimhood and not having fought back hard enough. The shame carried by Parker's alleged victim led her to kill herself, much like the descendants of slaves today lead self-destructive lives over their historical shame. Parker's alleged rape victim had to carry the shame of her rape and her inability to stop it, just like Black culture of today has to carry the shame of slavery and their forefathers inability to stop it. This shame and victimhood felt by both Parker's victim and African-Americans is a consequence of trauma and is not rational, but that doesn't mean it isn't very real.

The emasculation of the Black man in the past has led to a deep seeded shame of today which rears its head in self-defeating riots, an embracing of criminality, generations of boys with absent fathers and endemic poverty. This shame is born of a lack of agency during slavery and creates a sub-conscious lack of agency in our current time. This is not to say that this slave shame is the entire reason for the aforementioned issues in Black culture, as those issues exist in other cultures as well, but it is to say that this historical victim shame is fertile soil for cultural self loathing from which these issues can grow and prosper. Until the deep seated shame of victimization by slavery and the emasculation that came with it, is taken head on and resolved, all other efforts to change things in the broader culture will fail. This doesn't mean that there isn't racism today or structural white supremacy or anything of the sort, it is to say that until Black culture can heal itself of this historical victim wound, the endless cycle of self-loathing and self-destruction will continue. It is also to say that until America can heal its palpable historical guilt over slavery, it will continue to suffer from its festering racial wound and the suffocating and calamitous hate and violence that accompanies it.

One bit of proof for this thesis is brought up in the previously mentioned Ava DuVernay film The 13th, where the idea of Black criminality is explored and its roots uncovered. While it was White men who criminalized the Black man to the broader culture, it wasn't just White culture that believed that story, Black culture believed it too. I believe Black culture wouldn't have believed such a denigrating and self-destructive myth if not for the shame of victimhood by slavery and the self-loathing that accompanies it that lives deep in a people's soul.

 

"BEING IRISH, HE HAD AN ABIDING SENSE OF TRAGEDY, WHICH SUSTAINED HIM THROUGH TEMPORARY PERIODS OF JOY." - WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Of course, the argument could, and most likely will, be made that I am a white man, so what the hell do I know. That might very well be a valid argument. In my defense I would say this, that being Irish, I know a little something about being the descendant of a people who were held captive and emasculated and having that cultural victim wound be passed down through generations. The Irish were under the thumb of the British, suffering genocides and indentured servitude along with other horrific indignities, for as long as Africans were enslaved in America. The Irish to this day carry the victim's shame, and the anger and self-destructive impulses that go along with it, as a result of their being under a brutal British rule. It might not be an exact parallel, but it is a parallel. Take my opinion and experience for whatever you judge it to be worth.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, The Birth of a Nation should be a vital film for our time, but it isn't. The film is a terribly wasted opportunity as Nat Turner's story is such a rich, complex and fascinating one which could enlighten and entertain people of all races. Sadly, Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a run of the mill, dramatically limp disappointment. The audacity of the film's star and creative force, Nate Parker, strangles the potential of the Nat Turner story in its cradle. The Birth of a Nation is not worth seeing in the theatre, or frankly anywhere else. If you stumble across it on cable, feel free to watch and see what you think, but appointment viewing it ain't. One can only hope that a few years down the road, a more talented director tells Nat Turner's story, as it is a story that is ripe with dramatic potential. It is also a story that, if told well, could bring about some much needed healing and change.

©2016